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Pub Date 4 Nov 2021 | Archive Date 4 Nov 2021

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'I am the queen of two crowns, banished fifteen years, the famed and gilded woman, bad-luck baleful girl, mother of three small animals, now gone. I am fifty-five years old. I am Lear’s wife. I am here.'

Word has come. Care-bent King Lear is dead, driven mad and betrayed. His three daughters too, broken in battle. But someone has survived: Lear’s queen. Exiled to a nunnery years ago, written out of history, her name forgotten. Now she can tell her story.

Though her grief and rage may threaten to crack the earth open, she knows she must seek answers. Why was she sent away in shame and disgrace? What has happened to Kent, her oldest friend and ally? And what will become of her now, in this place of women? To find peace she must reckon with her past and make a terrible choice – one upon which her destiny, and that of the entire abbey, rests.

Giving unforgettable voice to a woman whose absence has been a tantalising mystery, Learwife is a breathtaking novel of loss, renewal and how history bleeds into the present.


'I am the queen of two crowns, banished fifteen years, the famed and gilded woman, bad-luck baleful girl, mother of three small animals, now gone. I am...

Advance Praise

‘With Learwife, J.R. Thorp has created an entire world out of a void. A stunning voice, hers is one you will remember, and look out for, in the years to come’

JING-JING LEE, author of the Women’s Prize-longlisted HOW WE DISAPPEARED

‘With Learwife, J.R. Thorp has created an entire world out of a void. A stunning voice, hers is one you will remember, and look out for, in the years to come’

JING-JING LEE, author of the Women’s...

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ISBN 9781838852832
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Featured Reviews

This is simply an extraordinary piece of writing. It's the sort of fiction that needs to be experienced rather than read - it appeals, at least in my case, not so much to my head as to something far more visceral. It entrances like a piece of music, a sophisticated fragrance, an abstract poem. I didn't know what was going on for swathes of the narrative but that doesn't seem to matter, at least in part, because story or plot isn't the main thrust of the writing.

That said, this is a piece that is anchored in King Lear, though a Christianised Lear where there is a nunnery in which the narrator has dwelled for fifteen years while the events of the play take place beyond her knowledge. There is Kent, and the Fool; there is Lear; perhaps most of all there are the three daughters, all dead now: Goneril, Reagan and Cordelia.

In part this touches on some of those perpetual enigmas from the play, but it also uses the motifs of the storm and savagery; of madness; weaves in key lines, Nothing will come of nothing... I will not see their like again; and ends with a kind of peace that is simultaneously survival and death. And at times the voice of the Learwife herself made me think of Plath's equally extraordinary Lady Lazarus.

I'd say this is too long given the focus on experience rather than narrative, but the writing is truly exceptional - one of those books where I finished it and wanted to turn right back to the beginning and start it all over again.

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This is an ARC review for Netgalley.
Oh my goodness what a book. This novel is written from the point of view of King Lear's wife. It is definitely a slow burner and a heavy read so may not be to everyone's taste but I enjoyed it immensely. The imagery and prose is of great depth and what a protagonist! The initial chapters focus mainly on the present in which the exiled Queen is living exiled in a nunnery. Gradually we get more and more glimpses of her past and hints of the reason she was exiled and the relationships that formed the woman we hear. The Queen is a fascinating character of great depth, intelligence and inner conflicts with a strong narrative voice. It may lag at times but overall a stunning read

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Firstly thank you to NetGalley and Canongate Books for an ARC of Learwife in exchange for an honest review.

Oh. My. GOD! I loved this book so much. It's the story of Shakespeare's King Lear's wife, who remains unnamed for much of the novel. It tells her story of life in the nunnery to where she was banished years before Lear's death, as well as flashing back to periods in her life as a young wife and mother to her three daughters. Sometimes I had to reread small sections just to get my bearings, especially towards the end as 'her' confusion and madness grabs hold of her. But the gist is that she doesn't know why she was sent away from Lear; what her supposed crime was. But she's trying to get away, back to visit the graves of her husband and her girls, in a time when disease strikes the nunnery and they are all forced to quarantine (topical, right?), deaths are rampant with even the abess losing her life. It's up to Lear's wife to choose her replacement, who would be most likely to release her?

This is not a book to race through. This is a book to curl up with in your favourite reading spot and savour the delicious poetic imagery conjured up by the author. Initially I wasn't sure that I would like it, I thought it might be a bit too heavy for me. I haven't read King Lear and don't even know what happens but this doesn't matter. A couple of chapters in and I just connected with the prose and I just loved all of it. I'm excited to see what else JR Thorp can treat us with in the future.

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I feel like Learwife is going to be one of those books which stays with me for a long time. The writing is lyrical, heavy with imagery and a depth which is at times almost unfathomable. The protagonist, wife of Lear, is locked away in a nunnery whilst the events of the Shakespearean tragedy play out, and though those characters feature heavily, this is ultimately the story of Lear's wife, a flawed woman who has been given her own voice by Thorp.

This novel gives us a snapshot of her life in the nunnery and is utterly full of intrigue, with flashbacks to her life as Queen and what led to her banishment. This is a feminist story at its core, showing the multiple sides to life as a woman: mother, daughter, wife. And this makes it a timeless story, reaching through the centuries to resonate with us today.

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This novel is such a beautiful reimagining of King Lear's wife and her time banished to a nunnery. The writing is lyrical - truly exceptional - and it feels so poetic. It is a novel that will stay with me for a long time.

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A wonderfully lyrical novel that follows one woman's journey through grief, loneliness and redemption following the death of her husband, King Lear, and their three daughters. The twice-queen, who after decades of exil in a nunnery without even knowing for what crime she was banished and who has long forgotten her own name, sets off down a slow and winding path of mourning and discovery. The prose, like the protagonist, jumps from narration to memory to wandering reflection which expertly echoes her state of mind. A hugely evocative, beautifully written and heart-wrenching tale by a gifted author.

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Learwife is a richly layered, complex (and sometimes dense) book that beautifully charts the inner life of King Lear's wife- a queen, a mother, an outcast.

This book's main success is being able to so vividly create a life for this woman who- although unnamed for most of the book- feels like an incredibly detailed and realistic person, rather than a background character in a play. She fills multiple roles in the book, alternatively a spurned wife, a clever politician and a woman navigating the many strictures placed upon women in her time.

It reminded me a lot of Carol Ann Duffy's poetry collection 'The World's Wife' breathing life into a fictional woman in a way that is haunting and profound.

The language of this book is at times so dense it feels hard to swim through, but that is also its appeal- the rich tapestry of the language charts both the clouded thoughts of a 'mad' woman dealing with grief and panic, but also offering rare moments of lucidity where the clouds clear and this queen outwits and outmanoeuvres everyone around her, proving she can still hold her own in court.

I found myself highlighting passage after passage as I read this book, because turns of phrase were so startling and clever. Thorp is able to capture a cleverly Anglo-Saxon and old English speech pattern in a way that doesn't feel clumsy- for example kingly over regal, or compound nouns as adjectives.

I finished the book not knowing how I felt about it, but I have found myself thinking about it a lot since, and I can't wait for more people to read it too.

I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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This novel is not for the fainthearted. By that I mean it is written in an abstract and metaphorical prose that rolls off the tongue and is dripping with rich and evocative imagery. Leah is a formidable force. She is a character of many deep and visceral layers. The majority of the novel weaves together her present day experiences of living at the abbey and her past experiences of being queen. Banished to the abbey for 15 years, Leah’s wife lives in abject despair, not knowing what she did to deserve being banished after giving birth to her third child. The reviews of this novel are mixed with some stating that it is a slow burn. However, if you can read the book with your expectations stripped of requiring a plot, Leah’s wifes’ character unfolds in delicate layers and is a pure joy to behold.

The writing excited me and left me yearning for the next perfect microcosm expression for the vulnerabilities and tragedies of life – notably the fragility of the female existence in a patriarchal society. Leah’s wifes’ account of her time as Leah’s queen is horrific, she existed as an object at her husband’s disposal, her whole degrading life is encapsulated in the title alone – she is never named but identified as her husband’s chattel, highlighting the degradation of women under the patriarchal society of the time. Despite this, she is devoted to her husband and would happily of laid down her life for him and his crown. Her faith in her sovereign is unwavering and she clings to the breadcrumbs of her former happiness. She is an enigma; both strong and weak, imposing and meek, downtrodden and filled with joy. As she ages the lines between her memories and waking existence blurs and she is soon tormented by the ghosts from her past. Leah’s wife must sink further and further into the ghostly darkness of her soul in order to discover the buried truth of her banishment.

Leah’s wifes’ relationship with her daughters is revealed through small fragments of memories and we soon become aware that it was full of tension and game-play. She was not always the kindest mother and sometimes caused her daughters pain and suffering in order to teach them strict life lessons. Her tough love approach won her no favours. As readers we are positioned to feel a mix of emotions towards Leah’s wife, we are both awed by her majesty, ashamed of her callousness and appalled by her devotion to an egotistical maniac. This novel is incredibly unique and is one that will stay with me as one of my top reads of this year for its distinctness. For a debut novel – it’s outstanding.

This novel will be published on December 7th by Pegasus books.

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I absolutely LOVE stories written from the perspective of "absent women" in literature. This tale was fascinating, heartbreaking, and absolutely unforgettable. Thank you so much for the ARC!

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Beautiful prose - so poetic. It flows over the reader carrying one along on a dreamlike journey. Lear's wife, unnamed otherwise, has spent fifteen years banished to a convent for an unknown crime. When word comes that Lear and all her daughters are dead, she desires to be free, to escape her imprisonment. Slowly, she involves herself in the life of the convent, thinking this way she can make her escape. She makes friends and enemies and is asked to cast the deciding vote for the new abbess.

Harking back to past lives, previous times, when she was twice a king's wife, a strong, powerful woman, she reflects on what might have brought her to this pass. She survives sickness, fire and a cold cold winter; votes are cast; lines are drawn; but her support comes at a price.

This is a marvellous piece of writing.

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In 'Learwife' ,J.R Thorp draws upon Shakespeare's play, and conjures up a clever, flawed and ambitious queen cloistered behind convent walls. Nursing the anger and rejection from her exile, she hears of the death of her husband and three daughters. Assailed by grief and a range of other emotions time compresses, and the nameless queen mangles events from her past with the troubles faced by the nuns. A contest for power ensues.

This is an incredibly clever and absorbing novel. Thorp's writing style isn't initially easy to connect with, but it had huge lyrical power and conveyed the emotion of the novel brilliantly. The queen is a complex character, and Thorp highlights how her actions during her daughter's childhoods shaped their destruction. It felt like a novel that would have been sweated over, and each word carefully chosen. I would recommend.

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Writing a book about King Lear's wife, whom Shakespeare told us nothing about, was a wager to say the least, but J.R. Thorp has managed to pull it off brilliantly. Not only is the explanation she imagines for Lear's wife's absence in the famous play utterly convincing, but the writing itself is mesmerising. It's a dark tale that doesn't read quickly but that draws you in, page after page. The kind of book that makes booksellers jealous of readers who have more time to let themselves be absorbed by such a powerful story.

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A dense and complicated story, its origins coming from within King Lear and that play sits as a group of ghosts behind the narrative from the beginning, getting much stronger and more compelling as the story progresses.
In the suffocating atmosphere of a priory, Lear's wife passes her years of exile in isolation, until disease and disruption affect the nuns and impact her own position.

As her mind disintegrates in a way that mirrors and is enhanced by Lear's own madness, she goes back over her life, loves and losses and calls herself to account.

This is very powerful and intense writing, and draws a fascinating picture of who Lear's wife might have been.

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This is one of the best "Queen" debut novels I've read in a very long time.
King Lear is dead and so is his three daughters, which only leave his banishment wife of fifteen years to take over the throne.
This is an exceptional novel that shows that every woman out there has the power to change regardless of historical relevance.
Brilliantly written

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